Last week, I wrote about travelling northbound on the Burrard St. bridge. Comments on the post brought up some concern over the use of a bike horn instead of a bike bell. I admit that I was surprised at the opposition to the bike horn. To me, a bike horn is an essential safety device when commuting in Vancouver.
My bicycle is equipped with both a bell (an MEC Universal Bicycle Bell) and an Air Zound bicycle horn. The bell is a typical thumb-actuated rotary bell; it makes a satisfyingly stereotypical ring-ring sound. The horn is an air-pressure horn that has an air reservoir that you pump up with a tire pump and then activate with a thumb switch. It’s about as loud as a car horn, but pitched a bit higher.
I use the horn in cases when I need someone else to know where I am. Typical cases are alerting motorists who haven’t looked in my direction and are either uncomfortably close or appear to be about to do something that could affect my safety. I’ll also use it to alert joggers or pedestrians with head-phones in who are in my lane and can’t see me, or who are about to step into my lane. In most cases involving pedestrians and cyclists, I’ll use my bell or voice. In most cases involving motorists, I’ll use the horn.
As I mentioned in the comments of last week’s post:
I’m not going to apologize for using it. I have a bell on my bike and use it when appropriate. I use the horn in cases where I know a bell will not be effective (or heard). In each of the cases in the video, it was justified:
1. Jeep turning right through yellow/red light at Burrard/1st without looking at me. The driver had not stopped at the yellow/red light (see below). She was turning into where I was going to be and still hadn’t looked at me. The horn got her attention and everybody was safe.
2. Pedestrian walking illegally in the bike lane on the bridge, wearing headphones, in my direction of travel. Because of the road noise, and the fact that he had headphones on, I gave a small toot of the horn. It announced my presence and everybody was safe. There’s no way he would have heard a bike bell.
3. SUV driver making illegal right turn against a red light without looking for bikes at Hornby and Smithe. Again, a bell would not have been effective here. Without the horn, there would have been some (Okay, probably a lot) yelling.
Objections to my use of the horn seemed to revolve around the idea that using a horn on a bike is overly-aggressive and reflects poorly on cyclists in general.
My position is that using the horn is a requirement of making sure that my commute is safe for me and everyone that I encounter.
On the issue of using a bell instead of a horn, I have long felt that using a bike bell to alert motorists was futile. To investigate this a bit, I took my helmet-cam and mounted it inside a car. The car was running, with the radio on at a low volume. I then drove by ringing my bell and sounding the horn. Boy, let me tell you there’s no better way to feel self-conscious than to do this a few times. Regardless, I’ve posted the results to YouTube: http://youtu.be/zrHzw2Zd1eQ
As you can tell from the video, the bell is completely inaudible from within the car, while the horn can be clearly heard. The video demonstrates quite clearly that motorists are unlikely to hear a bike bell unless the window is down. The video was taken on a relatively quiet street while the car was stationary. In a moving vehicle on a busy street, it would be impossible to hear a bike bell.
What do you think about horns on bikes? Do you use one?
Last modified: March 5, 2012